By Communications Workers of America,
July 14th, 2015
In the photo, activists hold anti-TPP placards during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit on April 26, 2014, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo credit: Rahman Roslan/Getty Images
Washington – Advocates for human rights and anti-trafficking efforts have been expressing outrage about the news that Malaysia is poised to receive an improved ranking on the U.S. State Department’s annual assessment of human trafficking across the globe. The assessed improvement is at odds with the recent and troubling facts on the ground, many experts are pointing out.
Perhaps most troubling is the notion that the upgraded Malaysia ranking is driven by the Obama Administration’s desire to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact. AsReuters reported last week: “The upgrade to so-called ‘Tier 2 Watch List’ status removes a potential barrier to President Barack Obama’s signature global trade deal. A provision in a related trade bill passed by Congress last month barred from fast-tracked trade deals Malaysia and other countries that earn the worst U.S. human trafficking ranking in the eyes of the U.S. State Department.”
The speed and secrecy on display during the recent fast track debate underscored the notion that backers of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are intent to advance the trade deal at any cost.  Now, we may have a troubling new example.  The Obama Administration should clarify why they deem Malaysia worthy of an improved ranking on human trafficking issues – and explain whether the administration’s ongoing advocacy for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) played a role in influencing the State Department’s assessment of Malaysia. Below is additional background information.
 “A Sweetheart Deal” for Malaysia – Lawmakers Blast Upgraded Ranking
During the recent fast track debate in Congress, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) authored a successful amendment that would bar the fast-tracking of trade deals with nations ranked by the State Department at the lowest, Tier 3 level on trafficking issues (Malaysia’s previous tier).
Now, in light of the upgraded ranking, Senator Menendez has been criticizing the new ranking and the larger motivations behind the upgrade.  Sen. Menendez told The Hill newspaper, “If true, this manipulation of Malaysia’s ranking in the State Department’s 2015 TIP report would be a perversion of the trafficking list and undermine both the integrity of this important report as well as the very difficult task of confronting states about human trafficking…Furthermore, if this report is contrived, it would undermine the credibility of labor and environmental provisions’ enforcement and call into question whether or not they would be manipulated as well in order to meet the standards.” Menendez later said, “They appear to be giving Malaysia a sweetheart deal.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro is among the other lawmakers also weighing in on the matter, noting, “The only reason to upgrade Malaysia to a tier two country is to bypass the ban that is currently in U.S. law … President Obama and Secretary Kerry must do the right thing and not arbitrarily upgrade Malaysia as a means to secure the TPP. This is an irresponsible, unacceptable political game.”
Experts Disagree that Malaysia Has Made Progress on Trafficking
  • In late May, the Associated Press reported, “a cluster of abandoned jungle camps used by human traffickers contained 139 suspected graves as well as barbed-wire pens likely used to cage migrants, shedding more light on a regional trade that preyed on some of Southeast Asia’s most desperate people.”
  • John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watchsaid that Malaysia has “done very little since being placed on Tier 3 to warrant an upgrade. This is not a controversial point … Nobody in the State Department could look at me with a straight face and lay out the steps Malaysia has taken that would warrant an upgrade to Tier 2.”
  • Phil Robertston, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia divisiontold Reuters:  “I would be stunned if they [Malaysia] are upgraded. They have done very little to improve the protection from abuse that migrant workers face … This would seem to be some sort of political reward from the United States and I would urge the U.S. Congress to look long and hard at who was making the decisions on such an upgrade.”  Robertson also told the Washington Times, “Malaysia has little to distinguish its record on human trafficking since last year — its service to victims is poor, anti-trafficking law conceptually conflated with people-smuggling, and protection for vulnerable migrants minimal.”
  • Shaman Darshni, Amnesty International’s Malaysia Executive Directorstated that, an upgrade “indicates the U.S.’ willingness to sidestep one of the world’s worst rights crises in the Southeast Asian region, of which Malaysia is a contributing cause … Malaysia’s anti-trafficking efforts have been severely wanting.”
Observers Asking Whether TPP & Political Motivations Drove Upgraded Ranking
  • In a hard-hitting piece in The Nation titled, “Obama Won’t Let Some Mass Graves Stop the TPP,” George Zornick writes, “In combination with the lack of evidence that Malaysia warrants reclassification, the inexplicable delay of the report raises obvious questions about whether the change was purely political and geared toward keeping the TPP intact and on the fast track in Congress.”
  • Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor asks, “Has US desire for Asia trade deal trumped slavery with Malaysia’s ranking?”
  • As the New York Times assessed, “The news that the State Department might upgrade Malaysia’s trafficking status suggests that the administration may not want to leave the Pacific trade accord vulnerable to anti-trafficking passions in Congress.”
For additional details, please contact Chuck Porcari, CWA Communications, 202-434-1168 or [email protected]
Also see Citizen Trade Campaign’s article on this.
Categories: Campaign Updates

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